This blog continues to comment on the KJV of Hebrews 6

anchorTherefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3 And this will we do, if God permit.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
9 But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
King James Version (KJV) anchor2

The first few verses, while advocating a mature faith, set out the teachings and experiences which this author considers fundamental for believers

1.The turning away from “dead works” which I take to mean “actions of the dead” that is, of those who worship idols, towards trust in God.

2. Teaching about baptisms meaning ceremonies of cleansing, laying on of hands in blessing, confirmation and healing, resurrection of the dead and God’s judgement on all people

3. Enlightenment to the truth, the “heavenly gift” of God’s love in Jesus, a share in the life of the Holy Spirit, nourishment by God’s word in the preaching of the gospel and the promise of eternal life.

The author enumerates these essentials in all their richness to support his own conclusion that people who have experienced them and then turned away from faith, “cannot be again made new in turning to God” because they have re-crucified and shamed Jesus Christ by their rejection of him. This is a harsh and perhaps unjustifiable teaching.  If Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who were crucifying him, how can his church refuse forgiveness for those who have fallen from faith? This same teaching became even more divisive in churches which had experienced persecution by the authorities. How could people who had escaped by denying their faith be forgiven and restored? The author was part of a church which took discipline seriously and saw the danger of trivialising forgiveness if it could simply be repeated again and again, allowing members to play at believing. Nevertheless my view is that the church should always err in the direction of forgiveness and inclusion rather than proclaiming limits to the forgiveness of God.

Verses 7 and 8 echo the teachings of Jesus about fruitfulness, reminding the reader that he also cursed a fruitless tree and spoke of the burning of unproductive plants. Faith is meant to issue in faithful actions.

Verses 9-12 are gentler towards to the readers of the letter reassuring them that they are on the way to salvation, (the definitive rescue of their lives) and that God will have taken note of the service they have given to his holy people. They are encouraged to show the “same enthusiasm until the final fulfilment of their hope” – the KJV is rather clumsy in verse 11. Verse 12 introduces the theme of “trust and patience” which could be translated as “longsuffering trust”, a virtue greatly prized by this author.

In verses 13-19 he provides an interpretation of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22, explaining God’s taking of an oath as divine imitation of a human custom to provide absolute assurance to Abraham and his spiritual descendants in the Christian communities. He presents the promise and the biding oath as two things which provide a “strong encouragement” (better than KJV  consolation) to grasp the hope which God offers. Abraham showed longsuffering trust and obtained the promise, but Christian believers have the greater example of Jesus who “entered right through the temple curtain,” as a forerunner on our behalf, to become a great high priest for humanity. The holy place behind the curtain is where the Jewish high priest would act out the people’s repentance and emerge with God’s forgiveness of their sin. The author will explain in subsequent sections how Jesus can be understood in this role. anchor3

The hope given to believers outdoes that offered to Abraham because it is fixed like an anchor in the holy place of God’s forgiveness through Jesus, (“grounded firm and deep in the saviour’s love” as the hymn says). The author’s image has a long history in Christian devotion.


One comment

  1. Verses 4-9 represent the beginning of 2,000 years of the church using fear as a weapon while at the same time using mystical language to describe the benefits of faith. This in turn creates insecurity in many church members and a sense of resignation: I’ve never tasted those heavenly blessings and powers of the world to come, so let me at least obey the church so I don’t end up rejected and cursed. I don’t buy the author’s language here. Mystical mumbo-jumbo to hypnotize and scare at the same time.

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